An Article by Sandra Mardigian
Something very small is looming large in the high tech world: Nanotechnology. Is it a blessing, or could it prove to be a curse—or both?
Nanotechnology is a new micro-science that borrows techniques from chemistry, biology, and physics. Its proponents believe that its advancing frontiers are opening up exciting opportunities to solve some of the most worrisome human and environmental problems and revolutionize medicine, manufacturing, pollution control, national security, computer and other high-tech industries, space technology, and an almost endless array of other fields.
Yet others urge caution, saying that nanotechnology could prove to be a Pandora’s box that unleashes unprecedented destruction. They worry that the industry is forging ahead without official oversight and with little monitoring by the public.
In its essence, nanotechnology is the coming ability to build products of any size with atomic precision. It is the ability to see, measure, and make objects that are of the same tiny scale as atoms and molecules. One nanometer equals a billionth of a meter. (A hydrogen atom is about 0.1 nanometer; the size of a virus is about 100 nanometers.)
“The small scale of these specks endows them with unique properties which could also be their downfall,” said an article in the British magazine New Scientist. “Early studies have found that carbon nanoparticles inflame rat lungs and damage fish brains. These particles will spread by wind and water, so where will they end up and how long will they last? The world did not ask these questions of chemicals such as DDT and PCBs. We must not make the same mistake again.” The Swiss insurer Swiss Re has expressed similar worries, suggesting that companies dealing in nanoparticles may find themselves paying high insurance premiums.
Nevertheless, Forbes touts its new “Nanotech Report—Hot New Growth Market!” and investors are “Betting Big on Nanotech,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle, reporting on the strikingly high public offering last July of Nanosys, Inc. An early stage nanotechnology company that had lost $20.9 million between its founding in July 2001 and the end of March 2004, Nanosys went public at the astounding stock price-to-sales ratio of 120-to-1. Nothing like this had been seen since the height of the dot-com boom, the Chronicle said.
A few days later, the Chronicle followed up with another article that called for attention to both “The Promise and Perils of the Nanotech Revolution,” saying, “Nanotechnology could revolutionize science, technology, medicine, and space exploration. [Or] Nanotechnology could ravage the environment, eliminate jobs, and lead to frightening new weapons of war. Those are two extreme takes on the hottest, and potentially most controversial, new technology since biotech. For years, science fiction writers and techno-visionaries have imagined the construction of nano-size molecules and machines that could clean cholesterol from your bloodstream, break down chemical spills, and lead to superstrong new materials. But there have also been warnings of nano-machines that might race out of control, mass-replicating and reducing Earth’s surface into a “gray goo.”
This article also discussed the finding that large carbon molecules called “fullerenes” damage fish brains, suggesting the same possibility for other animals and for humans. Discovered in the 1980s, fullerenes are the third known type of carbon molecule (the others are diamond and graphite). Fullerenes is short for “Buckminster fullerenes,” a name that the discoverers of the molecule awarded in honor of the Nobel Prize winning architect-engineer, Buckminster Fuller, because they resemble his famous geodesic domes. The molecules are also known as “buckyballs,” and each contains 60 to 70 carbon atoms.
The rush to participate in a potential nanotech boom is international. This year, Mitsubishi is planning to manufacture thousands of tons of buckyballs for a variety of uses, from carrying drugs to various parts of the body like tiny submarines, to applications in new types of electronic products.
Singapore is expecting nanotech to spur the success of their vast, new technology park, built to attract international companies to locate in their state-of-the-art, regulation-free environment. According to an article published by the Association for Asian Research, the Chinese government is supporting ambitious plans to develop nanotechnology at a pace second to none. They have embarked upon a three-stage program aimed at becoming world leaders in the field.
Christine Peterson is president of the Foresight Institute in Palo Alto, California, which was founded to “actively pursue beneficial outcomes of nanotechnology, including improved economic, social, and environmental conditions” and to encourage public debate. Despite the concerns of some scientists and environmentalists about the possibly adverse impact of nanotechnologies, Peterson said, “The advance of the field is inexorable. It’s a powerhouse. This is not something that can be stopped.” The Institute stresses that limits will be necessary to prevent abuses by individuals, groups, and nations bent on undesirable ends.
One person who speaks out urgently on planning ahead for worst-case-scenario is B. C. Crandall, author of the book Nanotechnology: Molecular Speculations on Global Abundance. The book describes the variety of nanotech applications being explored, and states unequivocally, “In the next century, molecular engineering will become a multitrillion-dollar industry that will dominate the economic and ecological fabric of our lives.”
Although he is an enthusiastic proponent of nanotech and its possibilities for enhancing life on Earth, Crandall is equally concerned about the potential for nanotechnologies to go out of control and wreak havoc. “We have yet to evolve the political or economic—or indeed the ethical or aesthetic—mechanisms that will allow humans as we have known them in the twentieth century to coexist with the molecularized products…in the twenty-first.”
Crandall continues, “Currently, we know of only one molecularly interconnected DNA experiment: the Earth.” And, he insists, “We face an ever increasing risk that molecularly machined artifacts generated by one species of DNA life will accidentally destroy the planet’s capacity to support primates, and potentially, its capacity to support all forms of DNA.”
The nonprofit Center for Responsible Nanotechnology (www.crnano.org) also urges caution on its website: “Effective use of nanotechnology can benefit everyone. Unwise use of nanotechnology can be very dangerous. Preventing nano-technology is impossible; careful study will be necessary for wise use.
“Effective use of nanotechnology will require intelligent and prudent policy-making. The situation is urgent….Molecular manufacturing and assembly will be simpler and easier in many ways than normal manufacturing. Rapid development programs, some of which may be secret, competitive, and unregulated, will be driven by powerful economic and military incentives. To be prepared for the coming development of molecular manufacturing technology, we must start planning for it immediately.”
Some research into safety issues around nanotechnology has been undertaken by the U.S. government to look into ways that nanoparticles are transported and altered in the environment within air, water, living organisms, and cells, including the cells’ genetic material. In federal fiscal year 2004, the funding for research into potential health and environmental effects was $106 million. This is 11 percent of the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative budget, which was created to encourage expansion of the nanotech industry. The research is directed at uncovering potential problems, but does not address fundamental principles for proceeding safely.
The British government is the first to take up the challenge of shaping fundamental policy for a precautionary approach, seeking to determine ethical guidelines for an industry that can be pursued carelessly, or applied to purposes ranging from the humane to the nefarious.
The editors of New Scientist magazine (September 11, 2004) strongly endorsed their government’s effort, even if it may result in loss of nanotech business in the U.K., saying:
“So we come to nanotechnology….The same questions are being asked of it as were asked of GM crops, and once again, the answers are not there.
“The alarm, raised by Prince Charles…prompted the government to commission a report from the Royal Society. That report, while acknowledging the vast potential of nanotechnology, contains recommendations that show how little we really know about its possible hazards.
“The report concluded:
• ‘That more research is needed on the health and environmental impacts of nanoparticles.
• ‘That nanoparticles should be regarded as new substances in national and European safety legislation.
• ‘That their release should be limited until more is known.
• ‘That companies should publish their safety data on nanoparticles.
“Finally, the report advised the British government to start a discussion with the public before views about nanotech become polarized and entrenched.
“On this last point, at least, the government has heard the call. [Science Minister David Sainsbury has] announced £1.2 million in grants to schemes designed to improve dialogue with the public not only on nanotech but also on brain research, artificial intelligence, and other areas.
“The first three recommendations pose trickier problems. If the U.K. alone demands extensive safety testing and environment modeling from companies that want to sell new technologies, those companies will take their development elsewhere. But using international competition as an excuse for carrying on regardless is not an option. Instead, the U.K. alone should seize the opportunity to convince governments and industries in Europe, and the other OECD nations, to follow suit. In a world where many technologies are introduced by multi-national companies that exist outside the control of any one government, and where those technologies can quickly spread worldwide, hazards are likely to appear quickly and globally.”
The New Scientist editors closed by saying, “We cannot carry on ignorantly lurching from one mess to the next.”
Nanotech has great potential to improve our lives by developing better, faster, stronger, smaller, and cheaper systems. But there is a clear imperative to identify and explore questions of both safety and ethics, and to determine the precautionary ground rules needed to ensure safety as advances in nanotechnology inexorably take us into a new era and radically transform our world. The rest of the world, and particularly we in the U.S., would be wise to take note and follow the lead of Britain’s initiative.
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A Not So Secret Children’s Garden
by Mac Lawrence
On a typical summer’s day, a flock of children are gathered in Karen Harwell’s garden, devouring fresh tomatoes and juicy peaches as if they were Gummy Bears. Karen’s garden is famous in Palo Alto, particularly along Dana Avenue, where she lives and where, tucked around her home on a normal-sized city lot, she grows an astonishing variety of fruits and vegetables.
It all started some five years ago when Karen decided to explore ways in which ordinary people could live lightly on our increasingly stressed Earth. “I immersed myself in an intensive process of discovery,” Karen recalls. “I remade my home and my lifestyle. It was both a challenge and a joy. Now I am offering my home as one model of how we might live in harmony with the Earth community and still live fulfilled, abundant lives. Mine is certainly not the only way, but it is one way, and it is tangible and visible.”
What Karen didn’t count on was the impact that one of the projects she undertook—her garden—would have on her neighborhood, particularly on the children. “It started,” she says, “with a few hungry eyes, a garden full of corn and tomato plants, and little hands just itching to pick the fresh vegetables. I was delighted with the interest the children showed, and thought, Why not help teach them about where their food comes from?” Soon the children wanted to help tend the garden—nourishing seedlings, planting, watering, weeding, harvesting. Three years later the garden, now called the Dana Meadows Organic Children’s Garden, became officially theirs.
“Depending on the season, we grow white, yellow, and Indian corn, cucumbers, eggplant, pole, bush and lima beans, cantaloupe and honeydew melons, watermelons, winter and summer squash, radishes, carrots, sunflowers. We have vines of red raspberries and blueberries and 18 semi-dwarf fruit trees—seven varieties of lemons, two varieties of apples and oranges, avocado, lime, apricot, peach, fig, walnut, grapefruit, tangerine, plum, and cherry.
“In the cooler afternoon garden, we grow herbs, lettuces, spinach, potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Alpine strawberries. In our forest garden, we tend our native plants such as wood roses and native trees, including Redbud, Maple, and Dogwood. The forest garden is home to our honeybees and their hives, as well as to our three ducks who enjoy swimming in the pond and have access to a pen to protect them from raccoons and other night predators.”
“Karen’s done a great thing for the kids of the block,” a neighbor notes. “She’s teaching kids a lot about gardening. When she’s on vacation, she asks the kids to take care of things. They feel like this is their garden. They pass it on their way to and from school. It’s a big part of the neighborhood’s life.” Another neighbor calls the garden “a third place” for the kids. “It’s not home or school. It’s nice, especially for the older kids. They get a sense of having a place away from their parents.” The mother of two eager young gardeners echoes the sentiment: “The kids are over every day doing something to maintain it. It really makes living here feel very special.”
It’s special for Karen, too: “We’re all part of the Earth community, though for the most part we don’t think that way. Rather, our tendency is to live as if we were separate from the Earth and as if the sole purpose of the Earth was to be the provider of resources for the human community. If we are to change this, we must have working models for change. I consider this one-sixth of an acre a gift to my family from the Earth community. It has supported us for the last 30-plus years. Now it seems fitting to be giving back. I learned from my study and work in permaculture design that the work of our time in relationship to the Earth needs to be focused on restoration. Rather than using up an area and then moving on, the idea of restoring the place where you dwell is very appealing.”
Along with the edibles in Karen’s garden, there is a focus on beauty. In the front garden around the fruit trees are roses and iris, California poppies, and a lilac bush. Underneath the hammock are fragrant herbs—lavender, lemon verbena, rose geranium, and a fragrant ginger plant. Along the path from the front gate to the front door you are greeted by a luscious smelling rose, a sage bush you can run your hand over, and fresh-smelling mints.
“We are part of an absolutely beautiful Earth, and I want kids to know about that. Through gardening, the children can experience how the Earth works, the interconnectedness of everything. The garden is a way for young people to experience awe.”
More from Karen Harwell on What People Can Do
FOOD Join a Community Supported Agriculture program. In our area, you can get a basket or half a basket of vegetables and fruit every week from May through Thanksgiving. Buying shares in a farm’s seasonal produce guarantees farmers an income, freeing them to focus on growing rather than marketing.
Shop at grocery stores which carry organic foods. Before you buy, ask if it’s local, seasonal, and organic.
CLOTHING I do not sew and at this stage of my life am not likely to start. In the meantime, my standard for clothing is natural materials, made locally and under conditions that respect the people making the clothing.
INSULATION Having grown up in Colorado, I was surprised at how poorly insulated the house was when we moved into our Dana Avenue home 30 years ago. People told us that fuel was cheap so there was no need for insulation. But we had a different model. First, we insulated the walls. Then we learned about this amazing new technology using solar panels on the roof to heat water. Those initial panels long ago paid for themselves in reduced utility bills.
Next, we replaced the drafty windows with double-paned glass. The house has not been the same since. In the summer, it’s nice and cool. No air conditioning needed here. In the winter, I notice that the furnace shuts off rapidly.
ELECTRICITY When our roof needed replacing, we learned about an even more amazing new technology with individual shingles made into solar photovoltaic cells that would generate electricity for the house, with the excess given back for the planet. We took the utility bills for the last four years to figure out how many solar roof shingles we would need, which turned out to be very few. Our new roof is beautiful. Now the neighborhood kids (and some Dads) come over to watch the electric meter run backward.
Recently, I had an energy audit done and was amazed to learn that my refrigerator was the highest energy consumer in my home. I have since replaced it with a Sunfrost refrigerator, made here in California and available through Real Goods in Berkeley. My electricity bill has shown a significant drop.
TRANSPORTATION I bought a Honda Civic VX in 1992 that gets as much as 50 miles per gallon on the open road. It has seat belts for four passengers and a driver, is roomy, has a nice-sized trunk, and drives very well. Today’s hybrids are a more modern answer. I use a bike with saddlebags for local shopping trips, have a mountain bike for joy riding, a kayak which is wonderful for paddling in estuaries in San Francisco Bay, and I walk a lot.
I would be happy to share what I’ve learned with anyone. You can reach me at Karen Harwell, 1335 Dana Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94301; 650-329-8199; email@example.com
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How Environmentalism Becomes a Passion
A Perspective by Donella Meadows
Long-time Timeline readers will recall that we ran a piece by the late Donella Meadows in every issue until her death four years ago. Her wisdom and the elegance and personal nature of her writing made her columns special. Here is one that appeared in our July/August issue of 1994.
“Why I Am an Environmentalist” was the title of a paper handed in by one of my students—the kind of title that makes my heart sink. There may not be a whole lot of folks out there waiting breathlessly to hear why you’re an environmentalist, I told him. That’s true, he said, but you told us to write about what’s most important to us. For me, this is it.
His paper described snorkeling with his ecology class in the Caribbean coral reefs. The class was exploring the outer-most reef, shallow on one side, the other side dropping off into the deep ocean. My student was poking around on the deep side when suddenly his instructor pointed out, 80 feet below, a giant sea turtle. Gasping with wonder, the student tried to follow it, but the turtle swam as if it were jet-powered. It headed away from the reef down to where the sun couldn’t reach, and it vanished into the dark.
The instructor told the student how lucky he was. The huge turtles used to be common, but because of hunting, fishnet entanglements, beach development, and pollution, sightings are now rare. I wonder every year, said the instructor, whether I’ll ever be able to show a student a sea turtle again.
The rest of the paper was the student’s struggle to express the tangled emotions that still gripped him from that moment-—the awe, the exhilaration, the anger, the grief.
It was hard for him to find the words. An experience like that is not a matter of words. Nature hits you with a magnificence that grabs you so totally, involves you so deeply, that it knocks all words out of your head—until afterward, when you babble about it to everyone you know.
Words can’t capture a transcendent experience, but my student’s words could trigger my own memories. The first time I saw a whale, I was high on a cliff in Hawaii, looking out across a sparkling sea. The whale was barely visible, a black dot in the middle of all that blue. I knew what it was only when it spouted. The thought of how enormous the whale must have been for me to see it from such a distance brought up a shiver in me, and a prayer of thanks for even a glimpse of such a creature.
The first time I saw a bald eagle, I was paddling a kayak through the Delaware Water Gap. The guidebook said there were eagles on the wild cliffs that rose from the river. I looked up and there it was, or there its silhouette was, motionless, perched on a snag hundreds of feet above. Like the whale, it was too distant to be visually impressive, but I felt a comfort that such a great bird not only lived, but lived on the edge of the Eastern megalopolis. It told me that something was right with the world.
For decades I worked on behalf of whales and eagles without seeing another one of either. Then a few years ago a young bald eagle started fishing the Connecticut River a few miles from my farm. I was driving along the river road the first time I saw him. He swooped low, right above my car, his enormous wings outstretched. It was one of those jaw-dropping, breath-taking, oh-my-gosh moments. I nearly drove off the road.
And last year a South African family invited me to their beach cottage in Hermanus. There, in a broad sunny bay near Capetown, with breakers rolling in from Antarctica, were more whales than I could count. About half the world’s population of southern right whales comes to calve in Hermanus Bay. Standing on shore, I could see the massive bulks rising and falling in the waves, some with smaller bulks at their sides. They heaved, they spouted, they seemed to dance, waving their flippers or tails, even arching themselves fully out of the water for a miraculous second or two.
I watched them for hours. It was like drinking something for which I had been desperately thirsty.
I can think of only one word for the experience of being so swept away by something outside yourself that your inner chatter ceases, time stops, you forget who you are, where you are, or even that you are. The word is love. Whatever person or thing, sunset or cathedral, symphony or ski-slope, fills you with that kind of ecstatic self-unconsciousness is something you love. You will go to astounding lengths to defend the possibility of having that experience again—and of others having it.
And you will run up against people who wield a gun or bulldozer or government budget or some other power over that which you love. Have you ever tried to explain why you love baseball, or opera, or a sea turtle, or an old-growth forest, or your neighborhood, or your kids to someone who is hostile to the subject? It can’t be done. It is not a matter of words. You know there is something lovable there, for anyone who will pay close attention, open to the wonder. But you can’t force that attention. You can’t cause that opening.
You may be able to touch an experience of love in another person, as the student’s turtle story touched the whale and the eagle in me. But if the person in power has no such experience, or no willingness to gain access to it, you will be called a sentimental fool, a tree-hugger, an environmental wacko. Then power, uninformed by love, will crush beauty and mystery in the name of efficiency, economic growth, national security, racial purity, or some other loveless abstraction. It happens every day.
What to do about power uninformed by love? I wish I knew. One answer is to seek power yourself. Another answer is to respect other people’s loves, knowing that a love you don’t share is a wonder to which you have yet to learn to open. The most effective answer is to be sure that power is never entrusted to those who cannot love—though they are attracted to power, like moths to a flame, because it is all they have.
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Loving Earth, Loving Ourselves
A Book Review by Robert J. Buschbacher
If you only read one book about sustainability, make it Developing Ecological Consciousness by Chris Uhl. This readable and inspiring book has remarkable scope, literally from the Big Bang to the practice of loving kindness. It also ranges from well-grounded science, clearly explained, to philosophy and personal reflection.
The book has a unique format that integrates three approaches. There are 30 scientific “foundations” or key principles, such as Earth’s water and materials cycles. These could form the basis of a college elective course on ecology or the environment, and indeed that is their origin. But each foundation is followed up with a personal reflection, where Uhl shares an experience that brought him awareness or empathy with that concept. Finally, the author presents “practices” that we each can apply to “reforge our connections,” whether it is with the web of life or with each other.
The book’s breadth results from Chris Uhl’s personal transformation. He is a renowned ecologist who spent many years as an insufferable overachiever, waking up each morning determined to “turn this day into a table (of publishable data).” After years of pioneering scientific studies on the dynamics of logging, pasture, and fire in the Amazon, he decided to turn his investigative lens on the question of sustainability at Penn State University, where Dr. Uhl is a professor of biology. Professor Uhl put together teams of students to analyze the university’s use of energy and water, sources of food, investment policy, community relations, and a handful of other areas. Their Sustainability Indicators report documented what others such as David Orr of Oberlin College have been saying for years: Universities are as fully bought in as anyone else to America’s wasteful and short-sighted economy, and while claiming highminded values, their practices
actually teach students greed, sloth, and lack of imagination. However, the Sustainability Project at Penn State struck a chord at the university, which has since made a remarkable turnaround on these issues.
The question now is how can global society make a turnaround, not only from the degradation of ecological systems, but also from the decline in the vitality of our communities, our democracy, even our spiritual well-being? The wisdom of Developing Ecological Consciousness is its demonstration that these are not separate issues.
Perhaps the most seductive trap on the road to sustainability is the illusion of a technological fix without a major restructuring of our lifestyles. Today’s cars are much cleaner and our factories are more energy efficient than 30 years ago, yet because we drive more and consume more, pollution and energy use continue to increase. On the other hand, as the book demonstrates, pro-nature choices have great potential to increase physical, spiritual, and community health.
The author gives us a comprehensive view of Earth’s integrated social-ecological system in three parts: how it works, what we have been doing to upset it, and what it will take to move us towards sustainability. The overarching theme is about connection. “Healing and wisdom will ultimately come through the reforging of connections—namely, our connections to our bodies, the natural world, and our home places.” The first step towards connection is knowledge, and Uhl provides a technically detailed yet vivid overview of the origins of Earth, how the Earth functions as a living system, the meaning and value of biodiversity. From the Monarch Butterfly migration to the ecological community that inhabits the human body, the reader will marvel at nature’s richness but also appreciate humanity’s dependence on natural phenomena for water, food, and air.
Fortified with this understanding of the Earth system, the reader is then guided to look at humankind’s accelerating punishment and destabilization of planetary life-support processes. From the loss of migratory songbirds to a silent epidemic of human reproductive disorders, the analysis is grim but not gloomy. Dr. Uhl does not overstate the case by neglecting legitimate advances such as increasing life expectancy and control of some diseases. Nor does he neglect to analyze the causes, from population growth to consumerism.
Developing Ecological Consciousness concludes with an agenda for action, centered on the concept of sustainability. Here he introduces practical tools such as replacing GNP with a Genuine Progress Indicator, redesigning production systems to mimic nature’s economy, and rewilding the landscape. Ultimately, though, Uhl presents the sustainability transformation as a change in paradigms, from domination to partnership, from empty consumerism to a quest for meaning, and from isolation to community.
The argument of this book is that we must become “change agents…to bring forward a new, life-sustaining society.” It calls for profound, transformational personal change, which may be achieved sequentially: being informed by scientific knowledge, developing consciousness through physical and emotional experience, and achieving spiritual connection.
We are destroying this most beautiful Earth. We can stop, and the best way is for each of us to recognize how we are connected to every other living thing, and to heal ourselves as we heal our planet.
Developing Ecological Consciousness: Path to a Sustainable World by Christopher Uhl. Rowman & Littlefield, UK,. 2003. $30.00.
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I Demand You Read This!
An Editorial by Mac Lawrence
Whoa—hold on there!
I “demand” something of you? Hardly the way to elicit a positive response.
If people react negatively to a demand, how about a country? How would the U.S. react if Canada made a demand on it? Or Mexico? Or Germany or France or China? No one can tell us what to do. Just look at the U.S. reaction when the rest of the world pressured us to sign the Kyoto agreement, or join the World Court, or sign the Ban the Landmine Treaty, or live up to the ABM Treaty. Or not go to war against Iraq.
So it’s no wonder the confrontational approach the U.S. has adopted has soured relationships around the globe. How else would a country react when called an axis of evil? Or relegated to the obsolete, as in “Old Europe.” Or lectured on human rights when the U.S. has maltreated prisoners, even flying them off to countries known for their propensity for torture? Or when the U.S. administration selects as its ambassador to the United Nations a man who has been openly hostile to the UN and, as the San Jose Mercury News put it, “is not one to mend fences.”
In a recent editorial in the Boston Globe, “Will Bush Soften Rhetoric or Grow More Shrill?” James Carroll notes that practically the first headline the president’s new secretary of state drew was “Rice chides Russia.” “What does it mean that the first signal that Condoleezza Rice has sent to Vladimir Putin is a kind of scold? Secretary Rice is famously an expert on Russia, but does she know the history of the tone of voice?”
“Diplomacy,” writes Carroll, “consists in the capacity to see things from the point of view of the other party. The triumphs and failures of U.S diplomacy across two generations define this truth, especially in relationship to Moscow. Within days of the death of Franklin Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman gave, as he put it, ‘a straight one-two to the jaw’ of Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov. ‘I have never been talked to like that in my life,’ Molotov complained. ‘Carry out your agreements,’ Truman replied, ‘and you won’t be talked to like that.’ Looked at from Moscow’s point of view—from the point of view, that is, of an ally whose ‘agreements kept’ were embodied in the astronomical number of casualties it was even then suffering in the war against Hitler—Truman’s scolding represented a breach from which there would be no recovering.”
According to Carroll, every U.S. president since then has adopted at one time or another the same bellicose position, always with a resulting deterioration in relationships. The situation improved and important things happened only when U.S. presidents changed their tone of voice. A prime example was President Kennedy’s 1963 speech at American University in which he changed from his position of America’s moral superiority based on “freedom” to admitting America’s own role in prolonging the hostile nature of the Cold War. As author Carroll noted: “Within days of this speech, Moscow and Washington accomplished the long unachieved Partial Test Ban Treaty, and the Cold War took its most fateful turn toward peace.”
Perhaps an even more dramatic turnaround was that of President Reagan. As Carroll noted: “Ronald Reagan built his first term around a rhetoric of ‘evil,’ and relations between Washington and Moscow went back into the freezer. But something new happened with Reagan’s second term. The shift was clear in a new tone of voice coming from Washington and heard quite clearly by new Soviet leadership. ‘It was evil,’ Reagan would say, referring to the Soviet Union. But, referring to Mikhail Gorbachev, Reagan explained, ‘This one man made all the difference.’ ”
In an article titled “Confrontation or Cooperation” that appeared in Timeline several years ago, the late Admiral Eugene Carroll voiced his concern about America’s increasingly in-your-face attitude, noting that America’s security and its future were threatened by an over-reliance on military power in attempting to influence and control events to its advantage. No nation in history, he said, has lasted for long trying to run the world. First of all, the world will not put up with a hegemonic nation over the long haul. Second, the citizens of the hegemonic nation “will finally refuse to make the sacrifices in blood and treasure necessary to maintain military control over others.”
Admiral Carroll used the term gunboat diplomacy, in his description of America’s aggressive posture. The New World Dictionary of American English defines gunboat diplomacy as “the use or threatened use of limited military force in place of conventional diplomatic negotiations.” Its definition of confront is “to face or oppose boldly, defiantly, or antagonistically.” It defines cooperate as “to work together with another or others for a common purpose.” And its definition of diplomatic is “tactful and adroit in dealing with people.”
Admiral Carroll concluded: “Confrontation or cooperation? If we seek to exercise constructive leadership as a cooperative member in a peaceful world community governed under the rule of law, the lessons of history and common sense make the choice very clear.”
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Thoughts on Nuclear Terror
A Book Review and Commentary by Winslow Myers
Humankind, wrote T.S. Eliot, cannot bear very much reality. Sometimes reality does feel almost intolerable. There is only one thing worse: illusion. One of the biggest illusions of our time is that nuclear weapons, in anyone’s hands—democratic state, sovereign dictatorship, or rogue entity—can enhance security or provide any useful military purpose whatsoever.
When the United States felt compelled to develop the first atomic bomb, allied policy makers assumed they were in a race with Hitler to possess the first viable nuclear weapon. Sixty years later, we have slid far down a slippery slope that could lead at any moment to a vertical cliff.
The whole planet is awash in nuclear materials of all sizes and degrees of lethality. The specifics are laid out concisely in Nuclear Terror: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe by Graham Allison, Douglas Dillon Professor of Government at Harvard. This book is required reading for any citizen who can bear the bad dreams it will evoke, because, while it is sobering, it is also realistic and hopeful.
The technology of bomb making is in the public record, including the Internet. Enriched uranium and perhaps some actual warheads are still at large in the former Soviet Union. The numbers of people who would like to get their hands on such stuff for nefarious purposes are large and apparently growing. Allison details the heroic efforts of Senators Nunn and Lugar to secure loose materials in cooperation with the Russians, an effort that, incredibly, has now been slowed by bureaucratic inertia in Washington.
Humankind has been astonishingly fortunate to get through a half-century of cold war without detonating a nuclear device—in anger or by accident. Preventing the use of such weapons, either by ourselves or our adversaries, remains a key measure of military success. President Kennedy understood this in 1962, when, resisting advice to attack Cuba, he chose a more restrained alternative and sidestepped a horror beyond imagining.
With all the guile and nihilism at their command, bin Laden and his followers seem to desire the very holocaust that Kennedy deftly avoided. Our vast stockpiles of warheads will not deter suicidal terrorists, and the more nuclear materials lying around in other countries for potential theft or black market purchase, the happier terrorists will be. We’ve entered a new world, where nuclear deterrence is meaningless.
Nuclear weapons may have shortened the second world war and so far prevented a third, but it has been a devil’s bargain. As Eisenhower predicted, the military-industrial complex has become a brontosaurus-sized tail wagging the chihuahua of policy. The obscene size of our arsenal sets a shameful precedent for the global project of nonproliferation.
Our own example emboldens others to proliferate. Take the case of Dr. A.Q. Khan, the man who used to be in charge of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program. He admitted to secretly selling nuclear technology to countries like Iran, one of a number of nations potentially sophisticated enough to develop nukes. Because Khan is held in high regard in his part of the world as the father of the Muslim bomb, and because Pakistan is for the moment an ally of the United States in the war on terror, Khan was bizarrely pardoned and quietly disappeared from the headlines.
While certainly not all nuclear engineers and scientists in many countries are guilty of behavior as equivocal as Khan’s, we must question whether we would think differently about the ethical responsibilities of such scientists should disaster occur. How many here in our own country or abroad have asked themselves if they are complicit in an axis of evil that is wider even than the presumed intentions of Iraq, or Iran, or North Korea? Theodore Taylor, who died last year at the age of 79, was a brilliant physicist who designed both the smallest and the most powerful fission bombs for the U.S. military. In the 1960s he did ask himself hard questions, ended up leaving the bomb business completely, and spent the rest of his life as an anti-proliferation activist, writing a book about the theft of nuclear materials which predates Allison’s by 30 years.
Allison is quick to point out rays of hope wherever he can find them, including Libya’s recent willingness to forego its program to develop weapons of mass destruction. Astoundingly, at the very same time, a new generation of bunker-busting nuclear WMDs is being debated in our own country. Leaders get away with such brazen hypocrisy through the time-tested method of fanning the flames of fear. The major players in the terror war on all sides have often indulged in this perverse temptation, encouraging the reciprocal escalation of stereotypes and dehumanized enemy-images. Everywhere in both the West and the Middle East, one hears variations on the theme first stated by our president, “You’re either with us or against us,” a formulation inadequate to the greater reality of the common desire to survive shared by the mass of people everywhere. It suggests a false choice between an imperial superpower and a demagogue who is admired for promising to overcome
the perceived humiliation of the Muslim masses.
Unfortunately far too many in the United States assume that our military might is divinely ordained for use in some world-ending battle, in a fulfillment of biblical prophecy. The idea that nuclear weapons are somehow part of a divine plan affronts both the Creator who endowed us with life and our own children, who must try to comprehend potential nuclear chaos and agony from a place of innocence. It is hard to imagine a divinity that would be pleased by our making our own end-time a self-fulfilling prophecy, and no doubt Allah is equally displeased with bin Laden’s destructive intentions. However, I would have liked to have seen more discussion in Allison’s book about what terrorists say they want, and whether any of their grievances are legitimate. Surely it is crucial to the task of preventing catastrophe to take the motives of our adversaries into account, in the Quaker spirit of asking what our own role might be in exacerbating tensions.
It certainly seems as if the time has come for the United States and the other nuclear powers to abandon our blatant double standard by negotiating down the numbers of our own warheads and giving smaller nations security guarantees for remaining non-nuclear. It will take lionhearted political decisiveness to ensure that real security—fewer nuclear weapons in fewer hands—trumps corporate profits. The billions of dollars that maintain our obsolete nuclear arsenals need redirection toward more urgent priorities: safeguarding fissionable materials in the former Soviet Union, deploying devices that detect such materials inside cargo containers, and of course doing our best to break up terrorist cells in advance of catastrophe.
Graham Allison’s solutions to the challenge of nuclear terror include these and other recommendations, such as involving our own government in giving the highest priority to making nuclear weapons and materials as secure as the gold in Fort Knox; stopping new national production of fissile material, starting with giving Iran greater incentives not to do it; blocking the emergence of new nuclear weapons states, beginning with engaging North Korea with specific carrots and sticks, and so on, all sensible and necessary suggestions.
Because this is a book that recommends changes in government policy, one aspect that receives less emphasis is the people-to-people dimension that can help to bring about a global change of thinking. One first step would be to encourage a worldwide dialogue about what actually does and does not increase global security. Such a dialogue would completely transcend whether we are Christian or Muslim, rich or poor, able to vote or subject to tyranny. The reality is that these weapons will not ensure anyone’s survival, just the reverse. They drain resources away from the possibility of addressing the poverty and ignorance that are the root causes of terror. Behind the Osama bin Laden we fear, behind the Great Satan he and his followers fear, is a greater enemy, the true enemy, which is war itself as a solution to conflict.
When Kennedy rejected the advice of his generals and chose blockade over invasion in the Cuban crisis, we won not only because the other side was equally interested in avoiding catastrophe but because he realized that unless everybody won, nobody would. In Kennedy’s vision lies the only possible way out of our broader dilemma: We the human species need to change the way we think from images of us-and-them to images of everyone winning.
If ever there were a challenge to spur urgent, rapid evolutionary change in our minds and hearts, it is the possibility of nuclear terror. We need to learn in a big hurry that conflict and war are not the same thing. Conflict is inevitable, but with good will and a common vision of mutual survival, conflict can be resolved without violence. To the extent war itself is seen as the real enemy, all of us on this small planet are on the same side. Building agreements on this principle, and acting on such agreements for the global good, isolates terror and fosters more constructive mechanisms for change. Meanwhile terrorist ill-will is a reality, and Graham Allison’s book is an excellent overview of practical steps we can urge upon our representatives to help prevent a looming disaster that doesn’t have to happen.
Winslow Myers, a long-time member of the Foundation for Global Community and its predecessor Beyond War, retired last year after thirty years of teaching and now lives in Stowe, Vermont.
Nuclear Terror: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe by Graham Allison Henry Holt & Co., New York. 2004. $24.00.
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The Koran Challenge in Yemen
By Mac Lawrence
As reported in The Christian Science Monitor, a young judge in Yemen is helping defuse terrorism by challenging al Qaeda prisoners to a debate.
In the article, James Brandon writes that Judge Hamoud al-Hitar began the experiment with five defiant terrorist prisoners. “If you can convince us that your ideas are justified by the Koran,” Hitar is reported to have said to the militants, “we will join you in your struggle. But if we succeed in convincing you of our ideas, then you must agree to renounce violence.” If the prisoners did agree to no more violence, they would be released and offered job training and help to find work.
Yemen is particularly notorious as a breeder of terrorists. As the Monitor article noted, it is Osama bin Laden’s ancestral home, provided the majority of recruits for his Afghan camps, had a record of kidnapping foreigners, and was behind the attack on the USS Cole.
The steps taken by the Yemen government to combat terrorism have apparently avoided the use of force wherever possible, despite pressure particularly by the United States. As one highly placed Yemeni was quoted in the Monitor: “It’s only logical to tackle these people through their brains and heart. If you beat these people up, they become more stubborn. If you hit them, they will enjoy the pain and find something good in it—it is a part of their ideology. Instead, what we must do is erase what they have been taught and explain to them that terrorism will only harm Yemenis’ jobs and prospects. Once they understand this, they become fighters for freedom and democracy, and fighters for true Islam.”
Yemen’s efforts so far have been so successful that one European diplomat is quoted in the Monitor as saying: “Yemen has gone from being a potential enemy to becoming an indispensable ally in the war on terror.” Hitar’s dialogue program has certainly played a part. More than 350 former prisoners have made it through the dialogue program, none of whom has left the country to fight elsewhere.
“An important part of the dialogue is mutual respect,” the Monitor quotes Hitar as saying. “Along with acknowledging freedom of expression, intellect, and opinion, you must listen and show interest in what the other party is saying. If you study terrorism in the world, you will see that it has an intellectual theory behind it.” And, as the dialogues showed, what the terrorists had been taught did not hold up when they studied the Koran.
Though U.S. pressure to use force persists, and some in the Yemen government agree, the Monitor notes that “Hitar has been invited to speak to antiterrorism specialists at London’s New Scotland Yard, as well as to French and German police, hoping to defuse growing militancy among Muslin immigrants,” and “U.S. diplomats have also approached the cleric to see if his methods can be applied to Iraq.”
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Letter to Timeline Readers
As we all know, nothing goes on forever, and after 13 years and more than 80 issues, our November/December 2005 issue will be the final one for Timeline. This was not an easy decision and certainly not one arrived at in haste.
Two years ago, the Foundation for Global Community embarked on a process by which the various teams and activities of the Foundation will become independent. That effort has been ongoing and is expected to be completed by June 2006.
Teams such as Hooked on Nature, Sense of Place, Global MindShift, Valley of Heart’s Delight, Israeli-Palestinian Dialogues, Enneagram, A Walk Through Time, Business and Sustainability, and a new team now forming called Conexions are each determining their own plans and may be contacting you for support in the future.
Timeline, however, will cease publication at the end of the year. Each of us on the Timeline team will move on to other efforts with the same goals as we had for Timeline—to work for a peaceful, sustainable world that is concerned with the well-being of all people and all life.
We’ve enjoyed immensely the challenge of creating a publication that we hope you’ve found informative and helpful, and are deeply grateful for your kind words over the years.
The Timeline Staff
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Old Europe Is Thinking New
T.R. Reid, San José Mercury News, February 20, 2005
“The European Union can’t match the United States in military power—but it doesn’t want to. This is partly because the point of a unified Europe is to move beyond war. Beyond that, Europeans would rather spend their tax money on the continent’s lavish welfare state. Instead of buying missile shields or aircraft carriers, the Europeans have built a cozy social network. In most European countries, college education is free, doctors make house calls (and never send a bill), and new parents are paid a salary by the state to stay home and raise the baby.”
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